Telling a good story about Harriet Alida Lye and her life during and after King’s is an easy task. The difficulty comes in deciding which story.
It could be about the work she is currently doing at the McMichael Art Gallery. Harriet is the social media voice for an institution that has an extraordinary collection of Canadian art including paintings from the Group of Seven and Inuit prints from Cape Dorset in Nunavut.
Or there’s the story about the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. Harriet was Writer in Residence at Shakespeare & Company, a book store in the French capitol.
“I was really scared,” she says. “It felt like we were under attack. Regular people like me were under attack.”
She remembers how the browsers in the bookshop during the attacks were invited to spend the night there, a place of refuge in an uncertain time. She posted her thoughts on Facebook. It wasn’t long before she was telling her story in The Guardian and The National Post.
Then there’s the story about how she started the literary arts zine Her Royal Majesty (HRM) while still a student at King’s. Dr. William Barker, the University’s president at the time, contributed both support and money to help her get started. When Harriet returned to Paris after graduating from King’s (she had studied in Paris at the American University for a couple of semesters as part of her degree and had “fallen in love with the city”) Her Royal Majesty became a full fledged international literary arts magazine.
“I had found a community of writers in Paris,” Harriet explains. “Lots of people were running magazines. And I found that one of the best ways to learn writing and editing and community building was by doing it myself. “
For six years and thirteen issues Harriet was the publisher of her own magazine featuring work by the likes of James Franco and Robert Hass. If that’s not enough, the very last issue had the very first short story ever written by celebrated Canadian author and Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro – The Dimensions of a Shadow. It was an amazing coup. Harriet says, “Getting Alice Munro’s first short story was the highlight of my publishing career. When it came out I was contacted by the New Yorker and the Paris Review. It made ripples in the literary scene. Now it’s available for free on the HRM website.”
There is a great story that goes along with how she actually managed to publish the story. Harriet has written an essay about it, and essays about other events in her rich life. You can read them at harrietalida.com/essays.
But the story that has been all consuming for Harriet for the last five years is The Honey Farm. It is her first novel, a psychological thriller published in Canada by Nimbus in the spring of 2018. It will also be published in Australia and the USA. When she talks about it she speaks with great pride and gratitude.
“It feels like The Honey Farm deserves to be in the world,” she says. “It was just so rewarding and moving to see the physical advance copies. And it has been such a huge honour to be read and considered.”
Harriet has started on a second novel. She has written the first chapter at least, and as she did with The Honey Farm she has tucked it away to “percolate”. In the meantime she is working on a non-fiction book about her experience with cancer.
There are just so many good stories to tell.
Posted: Mar. 2017